Monday, 19 June 2017

To Be Quite Frank: Rome and the Invention of the Franks

The Franks have to be the success story of all the groups that emerged to rule Europe after Rome; unlike the Goths and Vandals, they still have a modern country named after them.

For many, the Franks first appear as a ruling group only in the time of Clovis (born 466, ruled 481-511; he came to the throne at age fifteen) and that, like the native American people, there are ‘none before Clovis’. You can see his alleged tomb with the French kings in the cathedral of Saint-Denis, after all. Much too is made of his ostensible conversion to Christianity by Gregory of Tours, who was born several decades later.

Tomb of Clovis, St-Denis, with Rose Window

However, the Franks were prominent in fourth and fifth century Gaul, and held important roles in the later Roman Empire. They were in many cases already Christians.

There were probably no Franks before the 280s, so the rise of people identifying themselves as Franks was sudden. They seem to have been a merger of two peoples supposedly antagonistic: Gauls and Germanic people. As one concept of the name ‘Frank’ was ‘the fierce people’ and another ‘the free people’, this would suggest a military alliance. The throwing-axe called the francisca is claimed by Isidore of Seville to have been named after the Franks, but most of Isidore’s Etymologies were wrong, so they might have named after axe as an item they habitually carried (compare this with the Saxons, so called because they used used a saxus, a type of sword). Examples of the francisca have been found at the Roman castle at Burgh Castle, Norfolk, suggesting continuing contact between Romans and Franks.

St Isidore of Seville

 The Franks are first mentioned in a panegyric poem addressed to Constantius Chlorus by a citizen of Augustodunum in Gaul (modern Autun), a city used as an imperial capital by a variety of rulers.

Julian’s commander of the infantry in Gaul was Claudius Silvanus, a Frank and son of Bonitus, both Latinate names (the name Silvanus might be a Latin form of Succelos, an god associated with Silvanus and worshipped in both Gaul and Germany). Of Bonitus Ammianus comments he was ‘a Frank it is true, but one who in the civil war often fought vigorously on the side of Constantine against the soldiers of Licinius’ (XV.5.24) He tried to usurp the imperial throne at Cologne, but his attempt failed after twenty-eight days. He had previously changed sides from Magnentius to Constantius to defeat the former at the Battle of Mursa (Ammianus XV.5.34, see also Eutropius Breviarium, X.12); other rebels executed were Lutto and Maudio, whose names sound Frankish.

Julian came upon groups of Frankish warriors around Gaul, including a group of 600 Ripuarian Franks near Cologne, heading into Gaul to raid. By a ruse he tricked them into surrendering to him (XVII.2.1-4). They had occupied two deserted military establishments, probably ones abandoned by the Romans themselves.

The Caesar is also recorded as having  (Ammianus XVII.17.8) met with the Salii (the Salian Franks) who had moved from the sea shore at Toxiandria to the area of Tongres (Tongelen) in Belgium. This is where Clovis’s father was based and eventually buried. He is recorded as patrolling the Rhine to stop them crossing and breaking up thickening ice, forcing them to advance no further, then to submitting to him.

Julian is recorded as suddenly diverting to attack a group of Franks  called Atthuarii (Ammianus 20.10.1-3); this surprise attack may have been to pre-empt a raid on the city of Tricensimae, modern Xanten.

The business end of a francisca, a throwing spear which may have given the Franks their name

 Silvanus was not the only Frank in the Roman army. Ammianus also reports a discussion with Laniogaisus, a military tribune who had been the sole witness to the death of the Emperor Constans at the hands of Magnentius (XV.5.15).

Nevitta was a Frankish general who defeated Alamanni in Rhaetia under Julian, supported Julian in his bid to be made emperor in AD359, and was one of the judges at the tribunal at Chalcedon which condemned corrupt officials from the reign of Constantius II, including the notarius Paul ‘the Chain’). He was made consul for AD361.

Count Bauto, a man whom St Ambrose (in a letter to the emperor Eugenius in AD394) called ‘a man of the highest rank of military authority’ was a Frankish Roman officer under Valentinian. He was made Consul in 385, with Arcadius. He commanded the forces that defeated Magnus Maximus in that same year. His daughter Aelia Eudoxia became the wife of Arcadius and his son Arbogastes became the regent for the boy Emperor Valentinian II (who was probably illegitimate anyway).

Bauto’s brother, Richomeres, was comes domesticorum under Gratian, magister militum under Valens, where he tried to prevent the Battle of Adrianople and eventually consul in 384, under Theodosius, the year after the second consulship of Merobaudes.

Merobaudes, another Frankish general under Roman command, played a significant part in holding the West together after the death of Valentinian. He was consul twice, in 377 and again in 383. He helped Maximus gain the throne , prosecuted the supposed heretic  Priscillian and may have lived to hold a third consulship in 388.

St Genevieve, patron saint of Paris, was a Frank called Genovefa, born at Nanterre in AD419. She was a Catholic, and Nanterre is very close to Paris. Her father, Severus, was  Frank in Roman service and her mother, Geronica, was said to be a Greek. The number of Franks with Roman names can suggest several things: that some of the supposed Franks were what we might call ‘political Franks’, individuals who had chosen to be Franks as a new personal identity.

Later, when royal service and the Church were alternative career paths under the Merovingians, we do see sons intended for royal service (and receiving Salic land in return) being christened with Frankish sounding names, while those intended for the Church were given Latin-sounding names. But people whose career paths changes could take new names. In AD581, Gregory of Tours met his mother’s uncle, Duke Gundulf. Gundulf was the son of Florentinus and Artemia, and the brother of Nicetius (Martin Heinzelmann (2001) Gregory of Tours: History and Society in the Sixth Century, Cambridge: CUP, p.20). His ancestry was ‘senatorial’, that is, Roman. Gregory didn’t know until he met him that Gundulf was his great uncle, which tells us he knew him under his original Roman name.

Personal identity, bound up with one’s name, was clearly fluid. Clovis (Clodovechus, possibly Hlodowig, hence the development of his name into Ludovic, Louis, Ludwig  and Lewis) clearly had no need of a Roman name. He was allegedly a pagan – Gregory claims he worshipped Mercury, which in Roman terms is Woden. He married a Burgundian princess, Clotilda, who was a Catholic.

It’s possible that he already was a Catholic, since so many of the Franks who worked for the Romans were Catholics too, and literate. His baptism by St Remigius, who had worked for some years with Clovis’s father, Childeric, may not have been from pagan to Christian. Many adults who had to do unchristian things like fight wars, received baptism later in life. Constantine was baptised on his deathbed, despite having a Christian mother.

The Baptism of Clovis: Ninth-Century Ivory Book Cover

The local laws of Gaul were given a Frankish gloss and a new name Lex Salica. The code specifies certain courses of action which are to be taken if one is a Frank or a Roman. Usually they are to be written if you’re Roman and involve action if a Frank.

The grandfather of Clovis, Merovech (Meroveus in Latin) had been a Roman soldier with a special command, to hold the Roman military road from Cologne to Boulogne, during the invasion of Vandals, Sueves and Alans in AD407. He was based in what’s now Belgium (Belgica Secunda) and obviously had good success, because he was able to hand command to his son, Childeric, mentioned above. Childeric’s tomb was unearthed in the 1600s, and his grave goods were lodged in the Louvre, where they survived the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, only for some items to be stolen in the 1830s.

One item stolen was Childeric’s seal ring. Fortunately someone had the idea to take an impression of the ring, and it can be seen from this picture that he used Latin and termed himself Childericus Rex. He has a Gaulish moustache and wears Roman chainmail armour. He was able to transmit his realm, north of the Somme  (a very strong farming area at that time), to Clovis, still using the special command structure or a departed empire.

The seal of King Childeric, ruler of many Franks and father of Clovis, giving his name in Latin; he has both a Gaulish moustache and Roman armour

 It’s very hard to see where Frank ends and Roman begins. Most of the Franks within Gaul probably considered themselves Romans, and manipulated their Roman and Frankish identities ad hoc. It wasn’t until after the end of the western empire that a new cultural identity was needed, and by use of the law and career paths, doused with a liberal dose of saints’ lives that Roman identity was over time sublimated into a Frankish one. 

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Bacaudae – thieves or social bandits?

The lunatic is easily recognised. Sooner or later he brings up the Templars’ (Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum) The Bacaudae are seen in a similar light.

On three occasions we find references to Bacaudae (or Bagaudae, or variants of that name) in Roman Gaul. The first time was in the third century, the second in the fourth and the final in the fifth.

They have been characterised in many ways, existing mainly in the political analysis of those discussing them. It does remind me of Umberto Eco’s maxim.

There has been much controversy over the name, which appears to be Gaulish. It’s possible that they did not know the meaning of the word either. There may have been groups calling themselves Bacaudae prior to this, but which we know nothing of.  We can’t even be certain this is an endonym (what people call themselves) as opposed to an exonym (what others call you, which the Romans were quite good at).

Bacaudae is of course a plural, and the singular form Bacauda. A man of that name was made Tribunus Voluptatum (minister for public amusement) at Milan by Theodoric (Cassiodorus Variae 5.25), a position to be held for life and an innovation at that time. This man was a Visigoth, so it is possible that the Bacaudae were followers of a Bacauda, a Germanic leader of some sort.

Why the Bacaudae were so prominent, because banditry and piracy were endemic in the Roman world? Julius Caesar had himself been captured by pirates. Lincoln Blumell in his article ‘Beware of Bandits! Banditry and Land Travel in the Roman Empire’ Journeys 8.1-2 (June-December 2007) points out that an expectation of banditry was commonplace, citing the plot of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (aka The Golden Ass).

Eric Hobsbawm refers to later ‘social bandits’ :

The point about social bandits is that they are peasant outlaws whom the lord and the state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice . . .and in any case as men to be admired, helped and supported  (EJ Hobsbawm 1969 Bandits)

We should consider as something close to that resistance figures such as the Lusitanian Viriatus, whom Diodorus Siculus refers to as ‘lord of all’; there are references to him also in Silus Italicus and Livy; he resisted Roman conquest of what is now Portugal in 147BC, the same year as Carthage and Corinth were burnt down by the Romans. Polybius sees him as using both war and theft to resist Roman conquest; even Romans could become social bandits, as in the case of Sertorius, who followed the example of Viriatus in the same area fifty years later.

Modern Statue of Viriatus, Portugal
Moreover in the era of Septimius Severus around AD190-210 we find references in Cassius Dio to Bulla Felix (‘Lucky Charm’) a semi legendary Robin Hood figure, who evaded capture for two years. Since Dio says he had a gang of 600 supporters, that seems incredible. If he existed at all (some doubt it) Bulla Felix would have found it impossible to navigate around Italy without being found, since he would have had to provide 1800 meals and fodder for 600 animals every day. A gang of 600 riders would have blocked the roads and been visible for miles. Dunbar’s Law (the so-called Law of 150) suggests that any number over 150 becomes increasingly difficult for one individual to manage. A Roman century had eighty men, and the double century  which headed each legion had 160, but there would always be absences and injuries to subtract from that.

Bulla Felix, 'lord of all'
Another liminal figure is Tacfarinas (Tiqfarin), a former Roman officer who deserted and led Berber groups into raiding Roman supply camps in north west Africa in the time of Tiberius, reported by Tacitus Annals). Unlike Juba and Jugurtha, he was not a local king with Roman tastes, but a non-noble Berber. We might also consider the case of Gildo, a rebel and former Roman soldier, who also used the Roman’s own fighting techniques against them in the 390s AD.

Mausoleum of Tacfarinas, North Africa
Galen, writing in the early third century AD, refers to what many might have considered normal reactions to banditry:

On another occasion we saw the skeleton of a bandit lying on rising ground by the roadside. He had been killed by some traveller repelling his attack. None of the local inhabitants would bury him, but in their hatred of him were glad enough to see his body consumed by the birds which, in a couple of days, ate his flesh, leaving the skeleton as if for medical demonstration. (Galen On Anatomical Procedures 1.2)

It’s hard to tell common thieves from Hobsbawm’s social bandits, as in the parable told by Jesus (Luke 10.30) ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Centuries earlier, Isaiah had commented that ‘Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.’ (Isaiah 1.23). Men who were supposed to be magistrates and heard cases were allying themselves with thieves and acting as rebels. In the east there were continuing reports of semi-political bandits (Strabo Geographika 16.2.18, Josephus Bellum Judaicum 1.304)

Bacaudae seem to be a product of social stress, since they are reported around AD289 by Claudius Mamertinus in a panegyric about Maximian; we know that Maximian hired barbarians to attack him so he could defeat them, so we should not be surprised if the original Bacaudae were invented for that same purpose. However, the name is associated with Gallic revolutionaries Amandus and Aelianus, both of whom, it should be noted, had fairly standard Roman names.

Some consider them to be social bandits, the term coined by Eric Hobsbawm for movements in Greece, Hungary and the Balkans in the early modern era which undermined the Ottomans in south-eastern Europe. The closest seem to be the Hajduk, who operated in that has recently been Yugoslavia, peasant Christian irregulars operating as small warbands of at most 100 men.

The crises which provoked the so-called Fall of the Roman Empire were mainly crises in Gaul.  Virtually every problem of territory and people in the later empire led to break-up involved Gaul at some point. Take Rutilius Namatianus’s comments in his poem De Reditu Suo (On his return home [to Gaul], Loeb translation, 1934)

the fields of Gaul summon home their native. Disfigured they are by wars immeasurably long, yet the less their charm, the more they earn pity. 'Tis a lighter crime to neglect our countrymen when at their ease: our common losses call for each man's loyalty. Our presence and our tears are what we owe to the ancestral home: service which grief has prompted ofttimes helps. 'Tis sin further to overlook the tedious tale of disasters which the delay of halting aid has multiplied: now is the time after cruel fires on ravaged farms to rebuild, if it be but shepherd's huts.

This is not just the invasions of Vandals, Sueves and Alans, but a protracted period of ‘wars immeasurably long’, with ‘fires on ravaged farms’.

Then there are the great complainers, Paulinus ‘of Pella’ and Salvian ‘of Marseille’. Paulinus (377-461) actually lived in southern Gaul and had only been born at Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia, when his father was proconsul there, leaving it forever at age nine months. Salvian (400-490) was actually from Trier in the Roman Rhineland, and left it for Marseille when Trier was evacuated in AD407.

The perils of being a landed noble in fifth century Gaul are ably told in Paulinus’s Eucharisticos (Thanksgiving), written when he was eighty-three in AD461 (born in 378). Paulinus was the grandson of Ausonius and his own father had been Proconsul of Africa. After a life of luxury and idleness, Paulinus was at 37 in AD415 made head of imperial finances by Priscus Attalus, the Visigoths’ puppet emperor in southern Gaul. This meant he was probably party to the treaty between the Visigoths in Gaul and northern Spain and the Romans, which lasted until the Visigothic leader Euric annulled in the 470s.

Professor Walter Goffart
Under that treaty, one third of all taxes were to be handed to the local Gothic commander in cash, while the remainder was to be handed to the Roman tax-farmer as before. The scheme is detailed by Walter Goffart in his groundbreaking Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418-584: The Techniques of Accommodation (Princeton University Press, 1987). It must have occurred to the Roman taxpayer in Gaul that if he could be defended adequately on a third of his taxes, what were the rest of his taxes for?

This book will change your history
The invasion of Gaul and then Spain by Germanic groups from AD407 onwards led to an major outbreak of disease in Spain in 409 (Chronicle of Hydatius), famines in Spain in 410 (Hydatius) and Gaul in 411 (Gallic Chronicle of 452). Much of the reason for the famine must have been seizure of crops by the invading Vandals, Sueves and others; the invading groups had no provision for food, so they must have seized what they could each day. People are less likely to plant crops or rear livestock if there is a good possibility of it being stolen by a foreign army. The imperial government had to forgive much is its tax revenues in the second and third decades of the fifth century. Even in Britain, Gildas refers to a famine ‘the discomfited people, wandering in the woods, began to feel the effects of a severe famine, which compelled many of them without delay to yield themselves up to their cruel persecutors, to obtain subsistence’ (De Excidio Britanniae 20).

Bacaudae are mentioned in Gaul during this very period, specifically in the Loire Valley and Aremorica (today’s Brittany), and it seems the Alans, a Turkmen warrior group associated with the Vandals, but known for their attack on Orleans ,were used to suppress them. It has been claimed that Aetius hired the local Alans under their king, Goar, to do so (Constantius of Lyon, Vita Sancti Germani).

Aremorica was seized by British rulers around this time. Today’s Brittany  has ancient divisions known today as Domnonée and Cornouaille, which replicate Dumnonia and Cornovia, today’s Devon and Cornwall. It’s possible that some of the people displaced by the British takeover also ended up as Bacaudae. The invading Britons were not fleeing from the Saxons, because the Saxons never got there until the time of Alfred the Great in the late ninth century. Quite possibly the Britons crossed to Aremorica to take advantage of the chaos there. Many people had ceased to work on farms in the semi-bondage which had become normalised in the fourth century, but never accepted. Lands termed agri deserti were not actually deserted, but farmed only by tenants who were too small and poor to pay major taxes; it was their landlords who deserted their tax liability.

Leaders like Tibatto (Constantius and Hydatius, who calls him princeps rebellionis) and Basilius, (Hydatius, s.a. AD449), accused of killing federates troops in a church at Tyrasso. Spain) don’t seem to be either social bandits or oppressed workers.

Execution of bearded men, perhaps Bacaudae, by Roman soldiers

The Loire Valley seems to have been a dividing line between various authorities. It marked provincial boundaries in imperial times, and by the fifth century the polities into which Gaul had transformed used this navigable waterway as a boundary. The comic play Querolus (The Angry Man) includes a conversation between the titular Querolus and his lar familiaris, household god. Querolus asks for power without responsibility. The Lar says “I know! Go and live on the banks of the Loire… In that place people live by the law of nations. … capital sentences are issued from an oak tree and written on bones. … private persons act as judges:.

Salvian’s most famous work, De praesenti judicio, often renamed De gubernatione Dei, On the Governance of God, attacks the imperial government for the existence of the Bacaudae. He blames the harshness of the rich and the high taxes on the lower orders which has made people flee to the Bacaudae (DGD v.5-6). He comments over and over that the barbarians may be rough and uncouth, but at least they are honest and not hypocrites.

In the middle of the fifth century AD, the phenomenon of Attila the Hun stunned Europe. Priscus, a member of the Roman posse sent to negotiate with Attila,

As I waited and walked up and down in front of the enclosure which surrounded the house, a man, whom from his Scythian dress I took for a barbarian, came up and addressed me in Greek, with the word Xaire, "Hail!"… He considered his new life among the Scythians better than his old life among the Romans, and the reasons he gave were as follows: "After war the Scythians live in inactivity, enjoying what they have got, and not at all, or very little, harassed. The Romans, on the other hand, are in the first place very liable to perish in war, as they have to rest their hopes of safety on others, and are not allowed, on account of their tyrants to use arms. And those who use them are injured by the cowardice of their generals, who cannot support the conduct of war. But the condition of the subjects in time of peace is far more grievous than the evils of war, for the exaction of the taxes is very severe, and unprincipled men inflict injuries on others, because the laws are practically not valid against all classes. A transgressor who belongs to the wealthy classes is not punished for his injustice, while a poor man, who does not understand business, undergoes the legal penalty, that is if he does not depart this life before the trial, so long is the course of lawsuits protracted, and so much money is expended on them. The climax of the misery is to have to pay in order to obtain justice. For no one will give a court to the injured man unless he pay a sum of money to the judge and the judge's clerks."… My interlocutor shed tears, and confessed that the laws and constitution of the Romans were fair, but deplored that the governors, not possessing the spirit of former generations, were ruining the State. (Priscus Fragment 7)

We see here the sorts of circumstances the Bacaudae faced, repeated by Salvian and Priscus: severe taxes and injustice, which made Romans happy to consider viable alternatives. If the Goths charged only a third of the regular tax assessment, where was the rest going to? Many would have said the idle mouths of the rich and the Church.

In conclusion: rebellion against the empire was not new or confined to a limited area. What the Bacaudae did, antagonists like Viriatus and Bulla Felix had done before them: take advantage of Roman weakness along liminal areas; in the valley of the Loire, the fifth century Bacaudae could take advantage of fragmented jurisdictions to act like the Border Reivers of the Anglo-Scottish border did for centuries; sometimes making themselves available to either party in a dispute, as the medieval gallowglass would do. They don’t sound very different to Alaric’s Visigoths.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Do You Know the Way to St Tropez?

I recently saw a poster of Brigitte Bardot in the 1957 movie Et Dieu Créa La Femme (And God Created Woman). Besides presenting la Bardot, the film launched the town of St Tropez, which had not until then made the impact on tourists that Cannes had already for a century.

I was surprised to see that, even today, sixty years on, St Tropez has fewer than 6,000 inhabitants and has never been connected to SNCF railways. Clearly part of its exclusivity was that it was hard to reach.

I came then to wonder who this saint was. ‘Tropez’ is hardly a common name. He may have been a Roman, with a name given as ‘Caius Silvius Torpetius’, a martyr executed, it is said, by Nero on 29 April AD68. His martyrdom is connected with the port of Pisa. Pisa is held to be an Etruscan city, since it contains an Etruscan mausoleum, so ‘Caius’ would be Gaius, most common Roman praenomen; Etruscan has no letter G. Silvius, the nomen of the Gens Silvia, tells us little either. This was the name of the royal family of Alba Longa, but not one in existence in later times.

Torpetius is a useless cognomen, as it means nothing in Latin. I speculate that is might be a local pronunciation in P Italic of the same word which in Latin is Torquatus. This would tie us in to some very important people.  Two shared the name Lucius Junius Silanus Torquatus. The elder, uncle to the younger, was praetor in AD48, but committed suicide on 1 January 49, having been accused by Claudius of incest with his sister. The nephew, descended from Augustus, was exiled as soon as Nero acceded to the throne and sent ‘to a country town’ where he died. Could this be Portus Pisanum?

The saint was supposedly either a gladiator or a member of the emperor’s personal guard. Well, it’s highly unlikely that he would be both a gladiator and have the Roman tria nomina. Roman citizens were forbidden to be gladiators and gladiators were denied the right ever to become Roman citizens. So we can scotch that.

It’s also highly unlikely that at that time an ordinary soldier in the imperial bodyguard would be a Roman citizen, not while serving anyway. The imperial bodyguard mostly comprised Germans. However, senior officers of the bodyguard would probably be equites, another relationship mentioned by saints’ lives of Torpetius.

Orthodox Christian Image of St Torpetius
The saint was beheaded and then placed in a boat with a cock and a dog, and sent down the River Arno to the sea, where, mirabile dictu, it floated all the way to southern Gaul. There are also claims that it drifted to Spain and even Portugal.

The boat with a cock and a dog, which, according to the miracula, didn’t touch the saint’s body but instead ran off once the boat landed in Gaul and had villages named after them, does strongly resemble the Roman punishment of poena cullei, in which the condemned man, often a parricide, was placed into a leather bag with snakes, a cock and a dog, who would injure him in their panic as all floated down the river (usually the Tiber) to certain death. The punishment was so peculiar that it was dreaded, and while it dated back to the Republic, it was used heavily by Claudius and Nero, was revived by Constantine and was still used in the era of Justinian.

So I suggest that St Tropez, Tropes in Provençal and Silvius Torpetius in local Latin, may have been Silanus Torquatus, killed by Nero for reasons unconnected to any supposed connection to early Christianity. Decapitation was not a normal Roman punishment, but one used by the Gauls (and Britons) to get rid of their political enemies. In the Christian era, pagan statue heads, like that of Apollo at Uley in Gloucestershire, might be buried as a damnatio memoriae.

If the fishermen of the unnamed Gaulish village had received a headless body in a boat, even with a cock and a dog, they would not have known it was a saint, would they? Tropez has no in vivo miracles attached to him. His vita, the Passio Sancti Torpetii, dates from the ninth century, which takes us very much into the Carolingian period, when this part of France was occupied by Arab Muslims. Subverting their tolerant regime by instigating and promoting a saint’s cult smack in the middle would be a typical piece of cultural theatre for the middle ages.

The priests who invented the saint also created a holy woman called Celerina, who had had a vision of the arrival of St Tropez, and who retrieved his body and dealt with it. Assuming this to be a Christian figure, it would be anachronistic, since there were almost certainly no Christians in Gaul at that time. Her name is a female version of Celerinus, considered a saint and ‘martyred’ by the emperor Decius at Carthage in AD250. He died of natural causes so he ought to be a confessor rather than a martyr, in that he was willing to be martyred, but wasn’t. He did have an aunt called Clerina who was a martyr, so maybe she is the Celerina in question, a mere 200 years later. Again, the Church would look for kudos for France based on this early martyrdom and an early saint. Many Gaulish female saints are Christianised versions of pagan goddesses anyway.

One source of the myth may have arrived from Spain. Liutprand of Cremona, the notoriously bad-tempered priest who worked for the Emperor Otto I and who rubbished Byzantium, recorded that Muslim converts called Muwallad, Latin speakers, landed at St Tropez (Heraclea was its ancient name) in 889 and rebuilt Fraxinet, anciently Fraxinetum, making it an important settlement. They were expelled by the forces of Count William, Margrave of Provence, because they had kidnapped the Abbot of Cluny. Losing the Battle of Tourtour in AD973, the Andalusis were killed or enslaved, and this marked the point at which all local and immigrant Muslims left that area of Francia.

Inventing a major saint, one with a Roman pedigree and international appreciation, is exactly what rulers did to win control of territories.

Les Bravades de St-Topez, Catholic Ritual in France
If Torquatus is the Torpetius/ Tropez of the martyrologies, he was unlucky to die on 29 April, in that Nero committed suicide on 9 June AD68, just a few weeks later.  Maybe he was merely exiled by Nero, since there is little to be gained in exiling someone just to kill them. If you’re emperor, you just kill them. If, as is suggested, Torquatus was a relative, Nero exiled him, and it was Galba who had him killed. By 29 April, the army revolt against Nero was in full spate.  The emperor was too busy trying to persuade his bodyguards not to run away and leave him to his fate (described by Tacitus Histories and Suetonius Twelve Caesars) to worry about early Christians (the claim that Nero executed SS Peter and Paul dates to Lactantius On the Death of the Persecutors (Chapter 2) in the early fourth century; earlier claims had been that they were executed during his reign, but not at his command).

Rococo image of the martyrdom of St Tropez
In summary, I consider that Saint Tropez was invented out of scraps of ancient texts  about Silanus Torquatus, with a dash of Lactantius and a pinch of grand guignol for the counts of Provence, to use as a justification to expell the hard-working and popular Muslims from the Fraxinet-Heraclea.

We’ve come a long way from Brigitte Bardot, but her life has at least been less fictionalised than St Tropez himself.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Sixty Over the Bridge: Growing Old as a Man in Rome

A common howler among my weaker students is the delightful Rome had a high mortality rate. I think I know what they mean: more people died young. The mortality rate, then as now, was 100 per cent. The Greek myth of Endymion, granted immortality but not eternal youth, would have made the concept unwelcome to those who knew of it.

Bust of an Old Man

 More people died young. For Roman citizens, especially in the Republic, death in a military context would have been a good possibility for males, while childbirth and post partum disease would have cut a swathe through the young female population as it did well into the twentieth century and still does in poor countries. Women are too important to be a footnote here and need to be dealt with in their own blog piece, to follow.

Many diseases we face today are those of old age. When people died younger, they died of different things. Diseases of human degeneration hardly existed. We do read of certain individuals dying of cancer – the emperor Constantius III had what may have been bowel cancer over several months in AD421. He was 51. The empress Theodora also died of cancer at the age of 48 (Victor of Tonnena, Chronicle s.a.548). As Cancer Research UK has often commented, 75% of cancer cases are in people over sixty, and if very few people made it to sixty in antiquity, we should expect the incidence to be lower anyway.

Most ancient societies found a role for those (mainly men) who didn’t die young. The Roman Senate emerges in the semi-legendary period following the expulsion of the kings (Regifugium). Consuls of the Roman Revolution, Lucius Junius Brutus and Titus Lucretius Tricipitinus had grown-up children. It is given that the rape of the latter’s daughter, Lucretia, provoked the rebellion, while the sons of Brutus, as in the famous modern painting, were executed for fighting alongside the ex-king. So the Consuls were probably in their forties or fifties.

The Latin word Senatus derives from senex/ senis ‘Old Man’; for a modern reader, learning that you could be considered an old man at just forty is sobering. But even in the supposedly stable period of the High Republic, Titus Flamininus was elected consul directly from quaestor at the age of thirty. Since men were not considered fully adult until twenty five, this was rapid and shown how narrow a window Roman males had for advancement – not below 25, over at 60.

Bust of an Old Man (looking remarkably like Iggy Pop)

We have few statistics for lifespan in antiquity; social order differences, whether you lived mostly in the city or on a country estate, occupation, all would make for major differences. Even the life of a slave could range from those working as field hands on Roman latifundia (nasty, brutish and short) to the high-status slave of a rich owner (probably living longer and better fed than a free person of the social underclass at Rome depending on bread doles in the Subura).

As Mary Harlow and Ray Laurence point out, we know more about the life stages of slime moulds than we do of people in antiquity (Growing Up and Growing Old in the Roman Empire, 2001). As humans have not changed genetically since long before the Roman period, the lifespan of people should be identical to what it was in (say) 1750, before we started inhaling coal smoke on a large scale. And in general it is. However, antiquity had few cures for childhood disease and frequent famines.

When we get inscriptions on tombstones and other monuments in the ‘pagan’ era, there is a lot of precision given much of the time, with dates and precise ages provided, not just years and months, but also days and hours of life. However, Christians scorned precise ages. ‘He was about fifty’ is the Christian style, designed to suggest that such things don’t matter, because, hey, the world’s going to end very soon. Early Christian millennial thinking is however undermined because the concept of any kind of monument is contrary to it.

Roman culture, backed up in some instances by law, specifies the age of sixty for old age. Men aged sixty and above weren’t eligible for military service or jury duty; while that may have been welcome, they also lost the right to vote in elections under the Republic. There was a saying ‘Sixty over the bridge’, the bridge being the passage through the voting booths on the Campus Martius. Once the empire was established, few things were voted on anyway and the Campus Martius was built over.

Senators aged sixty were no longer obliged to attend the Senate, and the same rule applied for decurions and their local curia in the various cities of the empire. That age seems to have been adopted as a norm across the empire.

Full length statue of an Old Man

We have two major Roman texts on old age: Cicero De Senectute (On Old Age), a work from the middle of the first century BC, and the Letters to Lucilius of Seneca, some 110 years later.

Cicero’s work is phrased as a conversation among Cato the Elder, Laelius and Scipio (son of Africanus). Cato praises influence as a benefit of old age, since the Senate called members to speak in order of their age, so those who were oldest spoke first (De Senectute 18).

Marcus Tullius Cicero; contemporary bust

Physical decay is acknowledged as an issue in a speech given to Cato:

But, the critics say, old men are morose, troubled, fretful, and hard to please; and, if we inquire, we shall find that some of them are misers, too. However, these are faults of character, not of age. Yet moroseness and the other faults mentioned have some excuse, not a really sufficient one, but such as it may seem possible to allow, in that old men imagine themselves ignored, despised, and mocked at; and besides, when the body is weak, the lightest blow gives pain. (Cicero De Senectute 18.65).

But this is a philosophical tract, dedicated to Cicero’s friend Atticus. It doesn’t pretend to be read as reality.

Seneca writes more tellingly:

Wherever I turn, I see evidences of my advancing years. I visited lately my country-place, and protested against the money which was spent on the tumble-down building. My bailiff maintained that the flaws were not due to his own carelessness; "he was doing everything possible, but the house was old." And this was the house which grew under my own hands! What has the future in store for me, if stones of my own age are already crumbling? I was angry, and I embraced the first opportunity to vent my spleen in the bailiff's presence. "It is clear," I cried, "that these plane-trees are neglected; they have no leaves. Their branches are so gnarled and shrivelled; the boles are so rough and unkempt! This would not happen, if someone loosened the earth at their feet, and watered them." The bailiff swore by my protecting deity that "he was doing everything possible, and never relaxed his efforts, but those trees were old." Between you and me, I had planted those trees myself, I had seen them in their first leaf.
Then I turned to the door and asked: "Who is that broken-down dotard? You have done well to place him at the entrance; for he is outward bound. Where did you get him? What pleasure did it give you to take up for burial some other man's dead? But the slave said: "Don't you know me, sir? I am Felicio; you used to bring me little images. My father was Philositus the steward, and I am your pet slave." "The man is clean crazy," I remarked. "Has my pet slave become a little boy again? But it is quite possible; his teeth are just dropping out." (Lucius Annaeus Seneca Letters to Lucilius 12)

Seneca; probably contemporary

He returns to the physical impairments of age in another letter:

Nevertheless, I offer thanks to myself, with you as witness; for I feel that age has done no damage to my mind, though I feel its effects on my constitution. Only my vices, and the outward aids to these vices, have reached senility; my mind is strong and rejoices that it has but slight connexion with the body. It has laid aside the greater part of its load. It is alert; it takes issue with me on the subject of old age; it declares that old age is its time of bloom. (Lucius Annaeus Seneca Letters to Lucilius 26)

Seneca died at his own hand aged 68, at the instigation of Nero. It is quite likely that he would have lived in to greater old age without that impetus. Again, this is philosophy to console someone in old age.


Similar sentiments can be read in one of Plutarch’s Moralia essays:

For granted that nature seeks in every way pleasure and enjoyment, old men are physically incapacitated for all pleasures except a few necessary ones, and not only as Euripides says, but their appetites also for food and drink are for the most part blunted and toothless, so that they can, if I may say so, hardly whet and sharpen them. They ought to prepare for themselves pleasures in the mind, not ignoble and illiberal ones like that of Simonides, who said to those who reproached him for his avarice that, since old age had deprived him of all other pleasures, he was comforting his declining years with the only one left, the pleasure of gain. (Plutarch Whether an Old Man Should Engage in Public Affairs’ 5).

This is of course an entirely aristocratic view, and of the 100 million souls in the Roman Empire, only a couple of thousand ever had the wealth to contemplate the merits of old age. Most were working till they dropped.

How many people in the empire had read the works of Cicero, Seneca or Plutarch?  Probably very few indeed. It would be generous to say one per cent; only a tiny number had the leisure time (otium) to do so. Probably a larger number had read the Sayings of Publius Syrus, a popular work because it comprised simple maxims written or compiled by a first century BC Syrian author, known and admired by Julius Caesar. Here’s a selection:

1. As men, we are all equal in the presence of death.
55. He has existed only, not lived, who lacks wisdom in old age
68. What greater evil could you wish a miser than long life?
105. A death that ends the ills of life is a blessing.
158. He who longs for death confesses that life is a failure.
324. Man’s life is a loan, not a gift.
566. There is no more shameful sight than an old man commending life.
1087. Man’s life is short and therefore an honourable death is his immortality.

Publius Syrus

There are maxims ranging from the profound to the frankly bizarre, and while they offer cracker barrel philosophy, they were more likely to be known to ordinary people than ever the works of the greats.

This is also a male view. The worth of women dropped once they had passed childbearing age. The wergilds of Dark Age women reflected that, so it may be the case that they were following common imperial practice. The life course of women is better the subject of its own blog piece.